Upper Nyack acquires land for the new village park, the Hester Haring Cason reserve
by Mike Hays
Bleating sheep surprised strollers from North Broadway to Upper Nyack about 15 years ago as they passed the sloping meadow at 626 N. Broadway which leads to a brick Georgian mansion on top of a hill. The ‘sheep farm’ is still how longtime villagers refer to property. In a remarkable coup, the village of Upper Nyack acquired the property of over 11 acres, the last large open space remaining in the village. On April 19, 2018, the village board of directors led by Mayor Karen Tarapata made one of the boldest decisions in the history of the village by voting yes on the limited time offer to purchase the property. stretching from N. Broadway to Midland Avenue.
The acquisition caused a buzz among the villagers: What are the plans? Shouldn’t the villagers have voted instead of the simple board of directors? Can it be an arboretum? What about taxes? Can we walk on the property? Who pays for the maintenance? Is the house habitable? What about parking? To the mayor’s credit, numerous planning meetings, tours through the property, and field trips to other parks begin to answer villagers’ questions about the future of Upper Nyack and the village’s only park. .
“The Hester Haring Cason Reserve is an opportunity for the residents of Upper Nyack to create a special place where we can come together as neighbors,” said Mayor Tarapata. “Now that we own the property, the villagers have the luxury of having the time to take a community-created planning approach. “
Beginning of the history of the “Sheep Farm” property
For nearly 200 years, the part of Upper Nyack north of Castle Heights Avenue and the shipyards was rural farmland. Wheat and corn were cash crops, along with fruit trees and grapes. The first settler in Upper Nyack was Cornelius Kuyper (or Cooper). He inherited most of what is now Upper Nyack from his father Claus Jensen who obtained the patent for the Nyaks in 1671. Over time, Kuyper’s land was subdivided by heirs. The Smith family held the Upper Nyack land, north of Old Mountain Road, for four generations until William Perry purchased the “Sheep Farm” parcel in 1828. At the time, the farm included all the lands from the river to 9W. After Perry, the lands north of Midland were split and sold, and after 1883 the farm was further reduced with the sale of the Broadway lands.
In one of the first detailed maps of the area, Edward Owen is listed as the owner. Similar to today’s property, the map shows a winding road up the hill to a dwelling. Two other buildings appear on the map, a barn and an abandoned house, possibly those still on the property. After Owen’s death in 1876, Joseph Hilton owned the property until his death in 1920. He built a Victorian mansion called Interlaken because of its wide view of the Tappan Zee.
WP Haring buys “sheep farm”, names it Riverhook Farm
In 1934, William Post Haring, a successful stockbroker who withdrew from the market before the crash, purchased the property along with 30 adjacent acres from the Chapman family. Haring grew up in the historic Onderdonk House in Piermont, one of the few remaining Dutch colonial houses in Rockland County. He married Dorothy Folsom and they had a child, a daughter, Hester Clark.
After the Haring family bought the farm, they demolished the decaying Interlaken mansion and built a long Georgian brick mansion that still stands on the crest of the hill. They named the farm the Riverhook Farm. At the time of the construction of the house, the child abduction and murder case in Lindbergh fascinated the country. To ensure better safety for her child, Haring had placed bars on the windows on Hester’s second floor. They were not kidnapped until the age of 16.
The Casons at Riverhook Farm
Hester worked as a designer for Lamont Doherty in Palisades. She met Jim Cason, who was the director of operations at the Duke Marine Facility in Beaufort, North Carolina, aboard the Duke Eastward University research vessel in 1965. They married in 1971 and moved to Riverhook. Farm. Growing largely on hay, the couple also raised vegetables, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. They never seemed to sell any of the animals. A part-time keeper managed the work of the tractor for many years.
Riverhook Farm faced uncertain times. Agriculture was no longer commercially viable in Rockland County by the end of the 20e century (this was before the market for specialty and organic vegetable crops appeared in the 21st century). Gradually, additional land once purchased by Haring was sold to pay taxes. The part-time worker was laid off and the couple worked hard to maintain what was the last waterfront farm in the area. After Hester died, Jim stayed on the farm. Now 90 years old, Jim has decided to leave the farm. His desire to see the land preserved leads him to offer the property to the village.
The Hester Haring Cason reserve was born
It is fitting that the new property now bears Hester’s name, as she has lived her entire life on the property. The reserve is still closed to the public until old farm equipment and Jim’s personal effects can be removed. Mayor Tarapata organized guided walks for the villagers through the remarkable space, showing the structures, trees and meadows of the property.
A winding road in bad condition runs from N. Broadway to N. Midland. The prairie facing Broadway has been mowed over the years. Black walnut trees grow where the road bypasses the brick mansion. The mansion has not yet been assessed but appears to have potential for public use. Behind the house is another open meadow and a stone shed and stable in excellent condition. A small house (circa 1840s?) Near the houses on Locust Drive has been abandoned for years and is unlikely to be salvageable. A small brick house near Midland is still inhabited.
What is the next step for the old “sheep farm”?
Clean-up work has started around the farm, but it will take some time to prepare the property for public use. In the meantime, meetings are underway to define how the reserve will be used. Will it be a single-storey park, reserved for the village, with hiking and cycling trails? Will the buildings be used for village events? Will the meadows be used for community gardens? Where are people going to park? All the ideas are on the table as the village moves forward. The next public contribution session, on October 11, will draw on the skills and talents of the village to form brainstorming groups to provide the village with ideas for potential uses.
It will take many years for the reserve to be fully utilized. Two things are certain: (A) It is the largest enterprise in the history of the village; and (B), future generations will benefit from an inspiring space. The villagers will long remember the daring blows of the current administration of the village.
Riverhook Sheep Farm, Sheila Hollihan-Elliot, The Hook, September / October 2008
Photo credits: Mike Hays
Michael Hays has been a resident of the Nyaks for 30 years. He grew up the son of a teacher and a nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He recently retired after a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Hays is an avid cyclist, historian and amateur photographer, gardener and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he wants to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.